Competencies for Occupational Risk Management: A Case Study of Electrical Systems Maintenance

By Christine Vidal-Gomel

The aim of this paper is to identify competencies for occupational risk management and to track their long-term development, from initial apprenticeship to more than five years of work experience. We consider the idea that work experience is an important factor in the development of competencies, though it is insufficient in itself. This study is carried out in the field of electrical systems maintenance.
On the basis of accidents analysis, we identified a core task: the power-cutting operation. This operation plays an important role in risk management in this field and can constitute a major problem, both for novices and experienced operators. In this study, we transposed the common characteristics of accident situations to a simulated situation?-?a latent connection error (abnormal situation) which causes the failure of normal power-cutting operations. In our simulated situation, technical diagrams have not been updated. Our analysis of the use of safety rules and diagnostic strategies (i.e., the identification of the danger caused by the connection error and the identification of ?the right way? to disconnect) enabled us to infer the different dimensions of various competencies: schemes, instruments, pragmatic concepts and knowledge of normal and abnormal situations. We identified links between these dimensions: operators activate a multi-instrumented disconnecting scheme that contributes to danger identification. Such a scheme comprises material as well as symbolic instruments, such as safety rules. Instrument functions for risk management are complementary. This scheme is articulated through two pragmatic concepts. For experienced operators, the scheme draws on a greater diversity of instruments. This accounts for operators? representations of abnormal situation characteristics, particularly where the operators? experience has been acquired in one specific post. The combined economy and effectiveness of the scheme enables operators to identify danger with greater precision. For the more experienced operators, diagnostic strategies bring into play these same pragmatic concepts and knowledge of normal and abnormal situations. Operators who have experience both in the trade and in a specific post activate diagnostic strategies that are based on a more precise knowledge of abnormal situations than workers who have acquired trade experience but little experience in one particular post.


  • Competencies
  • Occupational risk management
  • Diagnostic strategies
  • Trade experience
  • Experience in a post
  • Electrical systems maintenance
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